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Iran's Response To Obama

In the item below I called the Iranian response to Obama's message "uncertain," but at a second look it actually seems fairly defiant. I suspect the regime resents, in part, Obama's effort to "go around the filter" of their own media apparatus, as one Iran-policy obsessive put it to me this morning.

Moreover, I see that the Iranians are again asking the U.S. to apologize for various historical offenses, including our support for a 1953 coup, backing Iraq in the Iran-Iraq wa, and the accidental shoot-down of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988.

Maybe such an apology would be the breakthrough we're looking for. But count me as dubious: We've been down this road before. In 2000 then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave a carefully-planned speech offering contrition on the first two of those three points:

In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Massadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.

Moreover, during the next quarter century, the United States and the West gave sustained backing to the Shah's regime. Although it did much to develop the country economically, the Shah's government also brutally repressed political dissent.

As President Clinton has said, the United States must bear its fair share of responsibility for the problems that have arisen in U.S.-Iranian relations. Even in more recent years, aspects of U.S. policy towards Iraq, during its conflict with Iran appear now to have been regrettably shortsighted, especially in light our subsequent experiences with Saddam Hussein.

 In response, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, sneered:

The question is, what good will this admission do us?... What good does this admission - that you acted in that way then - do us now?.. An admission years after the crime was committed, while they might be committing similar crimes now, will not do the Iranian nation any good...

Could this time be different? Maybe. Albright did not use words like "apologize" or "sorry" (although Kenneth Pollack, who was then working on Iran issues at the National Security Council, describes the statement as an "apology" in his book The Persian Puzzle). Nor did she mention Iran Air flight 655. Maybe a new statement from Obama, one that is more contrite and discusses the shoot-down, would move Khamenei and friends. Or maybe this is just one more Iranian stalling tactic.

--Michael Crowley